The quintal or centner is a historical unit of mass in many countries which is usually defined as 100 base units of either pounds or kilograms. In British English, it referred to the hundredweight; in American English, it formerly referred to an uncommon measure of 100 kilograms.
Both terms share their roots in the Classical Latin centenarius, meaning hundredlike, but the quintal has a convoluted etymology: It became Late Latin centenarium pondus, then in succession, Byzantine Greek κεντηνάριον (kentenarion) and Arabic qintar قنطار. The qintar was reimported to Europe by traders during the Middle Ages, where it became Mediæval Latin quintale, and finally Old French quintal before passing into the English language from French.
The word centner, on the other hand, is simply a Germanicized form of its original Latin name centenarius.
Languages drawing its cognate name for the weight from Arabic qintar include Spanish quintal, French quintal, Italian quintale, Portuguese quintal, Ukrainian квінтал (kvintal), Esperanto kvintalo. Languages taking their cognates from Germanicized centner include German Zentner, Lithuanian centneris, Swedish centner, Polish cetnar, Russian центнер (tsentner), Estonian tsentner, and Spanish centena.
Pound-based vs. kilogram-based
The concept has resulted in two different series of masses: Those based on the local pound (which after metrication was considered equivalent to half a kilogram), and those uprated to being based on the kilogram.
The German Zentner is pound-based, and thus since metrication is defined as 50 kg, whereas the Austrian and Swiss Zentner since metrication has been re-defined as 100 kg. In Germany a measure of 100 kg is named a Doppelzentner.
In English both terms quintal and centner were once alternative names for the hundredweight and thus defined either as 100 lb (exactly 45.359237 kg) or as 112 lb (about 50.84 kg). Also, in the Dominican Republic it is about 125 lb. The German Zentner was introduced to the English language via Hanseatic trade as a measure of the weight of certain crops including hops for beer production.
The quintal was defined in the United States in 1866 as 100 kilograms. However, this is not in use and though it still appears in the statute, it has been declared obsolete by NIST. In the Czech Republic, it is still in daily use by farmers.
- Real Academia Española's definition of quintal
- Act of July 28, 1866, codified in 15 U.S.C. §205
- "Metric System of Measurement: Interpretation of the International System of Units for the United States", Federal Register notice of July 28, 1998, 63 F.R. 40333 "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on September 30, 2006. Retrieved September 28, 2006.